Executive Editor Frank Pine
Posted: 04/16/2011 05:54:29 PM PDT

Bill Postmus’ recent guilty plea to 14 felonies related to misconduct in the Assessor’s Office and corruption in San Bernardino County’s nine-figure legal settlement with developer Colonies Partners LP sure seems to have put the county in an awkward position.

District Attorney Michael A. Ramos has made it clear he thinks the $102 million Colonies received to end a long-running land-use dispute should be returned to taxpayers – or to the county, at least.

Postmus’ plea gives the county a chance to seek that refund from Colonies, and according to an attorney for San Bernardino Associated Governments, the county might even get to keep the controversial flood-control basin over which the battle was fought.

On the other hand, it could also mark a new beginning to the bitter, lengthy and very expensive squabble between Colonies and the county over who should really foot the bill for flood-control improvements and how much that land is truly worth.

The issue is so complex I couldn’t possibly do it justice in this small space. Suffice it to say that the only folks who appear to come out ahead in all of this are the lawyers who have generated mammoth mountains of motions, lawsuits, cross-complaints and more.

The latest development certainly brings the county to a confounding fork in the road, though.

Since settling with Colonies, the county has pursued litigation against Upland, Caltrans and Sanbag, seeking to be reimbursed for some or all of its expenses related to the settlement.

Postmus’ plea has prompted calls for the dismissal of, or at least a stay on, that lawsuit.

The county has rebuffed such requests, standing staunch on its position that those other agencies are, in fact, responsible for damages to Colonies.

The county has also said it will need at least a month to figure out whether it should go after a refund from Colonies.

While that may seem absurd, it’s really not so at all.

Clearly, the county wants its money back. The challenge is in determining the best way to go about getting it, and from whom it should be got.

Should the county continue to pursue reimbursement from Upland, Caltrans and Sanbag, or should it go after Colonies?

These two courses of action appear to be, at least to some degree, mutually exclusive.

If the county pursues its lawsuit against the other public agencies, it has to argue that the settlement was at least somewhat warranted, which undermines a potential case against Colonies.

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